Graduating in the Face of Adversity

Graduating in the Face of Adversity

Graduation. One of the most important milestones in our educational careers. We proudly wear our cap and gown, decorate ourselves in leis, sashes, cords that represent our various communities and honorary work. We decorate our caps to add a touch of our personality. It is an exciting time for professors, friends, and family to come together to celebrate this huge accomplishment! 

Today, I will be graduating - kind of.  My pandemic graduation ceremony consists of me turning in my last assignment, closing a laptop and BOOM. I am done with my studies and I can proudly say I have a B.A. in Communication Studies. It goes without saying that this event feels very anticlimactic. I desire no celebration. I am not walking, my department will not be holding a smaller ceremony, and I was only given the option to take part in a five hour virtual commencement where my name would not even be announced. I finally received my cap last week, but they sent me the wrong tassel that says “Class of 2020”.  

Many of my peers from other universities are celebrating this milestone, taking pictures in their regalia on campus, and hosting small parties. It has been really refreshing for me to witness other’s accomplishments via Instagram. I am genuinely happy for them and wish them well for their future endeavors. Regarding my personal graduation experience, however, my emotions were generally negative. 

Through the wise and brutally blunt words of my parents, I was able to change my mindset for the better. We were sitting together at the dinner table and the conversation about my graduation sparked up.  My parents almost immediately sensed my pessimism. My mother snapped at me, and was quick to give me a reality check (which I desperately needed). She said, “RIta quit it!  In life, there are not many moments in life where you can take the time to celebrate yourself and your accomplishments. 20-30 years from now, you will look back wishing you did.” A mother’s advice is not to be taken lightly. 

This moment was humbling for me. Yes, the circumstances are not ideal, but as I reflected on what graduation means to me, I considered why I got this degree in the first place. My parents could not even imagine having this opportunity when they were my age. Immigrating to the United States from Central America, not knowing a lick of English, and going straight to work, made it impossible for them to further their education.  They were raised in an environment where children a lot younger than me did not have the privilege to pass high school. Many wake up at the crack of dawn to head off to work, struggling to provide food and shelter for their families. People work in laborious jobs that make their hands rougher than sandpaper.  These are circumstances I do not have to think about. This degree represents the abundance of opportunities I have because of what my parents fought for, against all the odds. 

Here in the United States, I have faced obstacles due to my ethnic background. In 2018, The Education Trust, a nonprofit advocating for educational development for all students, found that  22% of Latino adults have earned some form of college degree. First generation graduates of 2021 are only increasing these numbers. 

Today, I join the 10% of Latinas that have earned a Bachelor's Degree. I worked diligently, not only for myself, but for my parents. WIthout their guidance, constant support, and blunt honesty, I would not be where I am.  This celebration is not only for us, but for the ones we call family and those who have been in our corner. I discovered that this cannot be done alone. These moments are meant to be shared and celebrated with those who have always had our backs; those who picked us up when we were knocked down. Congratulations to those who had to overcome obstacles in the face of adversity; Congratulations to the Class of 2021! 


Written by: Rita Colom

Instagram: @Rita.colom

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